Barriers to chronic health care provide opportunities for employers

Employers are finding innovative services and technologies to increase their value proposition

Barriers to chronic health care provide opportunities for employers
Tara Anstey, director, business development client value, Medavie Blue Cross

In Canada, nearly half (44 percent) of adults have a chronic condition, such as heart disease or diabetes, which can have significant ramifications for employee well-being and workplace productivity. But there are opportunities for employers to help employees while simultaneously building their bottom line.

Annually, the cost of absenteeism and presenteeism resulting from unmanaged chronic disease is $190 billion and, from 2019 to 2022, there was a 23.3 percent increase in per capita spend for chronic disease, says data from Medavie Blue Cross. The data also shows that diabetes is now the number two drug benefit for private plan expenditures (second only to biologics to treat autoimmune conditions) and accounts for 11 percent of all health spending.

At the same time, there is an increased expectation from employees for their employers to support them with disease awareness, prevention, and management. This provides employers with opportunities to help their employees while increasing productivity and employee retention and, ultimately, impacting their bottom line.

Chronic illness on the rise

Chronic disease is on the rise and mental health issues are outpacing all other chronic diseases, says Tara Anstey, director, business development client value at Medavie Blue Cross. “Coming out of the pandemic, there were unmet needs around mental health, diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic diseases. Unmanaged chronic disease – presenting as increased absenteeism and reduced productivity in the workplace – is costing Canadian employers about $190 billion a year. And this comes at a time when there are labour shortages in the market, so employers recognize they may not have the ability to backfill those absences or productivity gaps.

“It presents a crisis for businesses in terms of staffing their workplaces, but it's also creating challenges around attraction and retention in this market. It is important for employers to understand that employees are in the driver's seat and they are looking for employers that support them and the totality of their health needs.”

The increase in spend on the management of chronic health care reflects higher utilization, and that is good news. Anstey says this is due to better and increased access to care, which is helping people to be able to meet their chronic illness care needs. For example, the pandemic jump-started virtual access to care. This and other new innovations help reduce barriers to care including geographic barriers, stigma barriers, and cost barriers.

Employee value proposition of greater importance

“The employee value proposition (EVP) is of greater importance in terms attraction and retention. Where in the past access to care may have taken a backseat to public health measures, employers today realize they need to take a more active role around bridging the gaps in primary care,” says Anstey.

Employers can help in many ways, she adds. One example is creating a culture that reduces stigma to provide more options for discussions around support for employee needs. It is also important to provide vetted, accurate health care and wellness information.

“We are seeing much more interest from plan sponsors to improve the EVP, so they are looking at the totality of the services and benefits they offer to ensure they deliver value for both employees and the company. They want to know what barriers there might be in terms of the design of the programs and also how they can expand access to care via other modalities and technologies that go beyond traditional services and benefits.

“Employers that take the time to make sure they are offering the best possible EVP will be able to help support multi-generational workforces with employees that are increasingly demanding benefit plans to meet their unique health conditions. This will help in attracting and retaining top talent as well as lower the incidence of disability by keeping people healthy and productive in the workforce.”

Providers like Medavie Blue Cross offer innovative solutions and strategies such as a ‘managing chronic disease’ program that connects people with professionals in their communities for one-on-one counselling and education services to gain the knowledge and confidence they need to self-manage their condition(s). Additionally, by integrating employee and family assistance programs (EFAPs) into an overall benefits plan design, employers can provide additional pathways to care for their employees. Taken a step further, with a digital-first EFAP approach, employees have access to more support channels and barrier-free resources for their health and wellness needs. 

“Employers are recognizing when their employees thrive, their business succeeds,” says Anstey. “With the new services and technologies available today, we are seeing more engagement than we ever have with the employer’s role in facilitating access to care.”